One of my favorite and earliest memories was seeing the big glass cylinder, the one with the muted orange and yellow citrus slices splashed across it, perched on the sunlit stoop of our house. The top was covered with clear plastic wrap held on with a rubber band. I distinctly remember the way the sun streamed in rays through the warm, transparent, caramel-colored liquid, and the chocolate brown squares of tea bags as they floated around the top. My mom was making Sun Tea; this was a happy signal that it was summertime.
Fast forward twenty-five years…another of my favorite memories is of my daughter when she was around three. I had just begun the plunge into herb school and almost all my free time was devoted to learning about herbal medicine. Heidi, as children do, must have picked up on this because she would come back inside the house, excitedly showing me what she had made. Her little chubby face and starfish hands would hold a cup or mason jar filled with water (from who knows where) and bits and pieces of plant matter from the yard. She had made a tea! I was so proud of her.
What is it about tea? For many of us there’s just something comforting, like an at-home-again feeling when we have tea. I could dive into the historical relevance of tea from all over the world, because there is so much to say about that. But this is not going to be going into the history of teas (this time). This time I want to talk about why we use tea in herbal medicine, especially when there are a bunch of other ways to get the medicine in your body.
What's Up With Teas
Teas are the foundation of herbal medicine. I don’t actually know that that is a fact. That’s my (maybe factual) opinion. Humans have been making and using teas forever. It is the oldest form of herbal preparation. Tinctures, glycerites, and the like are, for the most part, relatively ‘new’ in the scheme of things. And when you begin to learn about herbal medicine, you usually will start with a tea. Why? Well, there are a ton of reasons for that.
They’re easy. All you need is the plant matter and water. And, sometimes you need something to heat it with- but not always. We’ll get into cold infusions later. Water extracts most of the medicinal properties from the plant, in one way or another. This is not the same for other menstruums in the extraction process. Sorry…getting a little technical over here…
They’re gentle. For most herbs, you’d need a ton of tea to overdo it and have a bad reaction. Of course, there are exceptions, and as an herbalist who uses herself as an herbal guinea pig from time to time, I can tell you there are ways to screw this up. But most people are not going to be playing mad scientist (and forgetting how long something steeped) with a ton of plant matter like I do.
They’re cheap. Teas are the least expensive way to take herbs. Tinctures are the most expensive.
It is just GOOD for you to use herbs as a tea. Many people are dehydrated and don’t even know it, so drinking tea is a way to get more water into your body.
OK, getting a little woo-woo here (proof again that I can get down with the woo!), teas are much more spiritual. It’s easy to take a capsule, or to squirt a tincture down the hatch, but teas take time. They require preparation. They require patience.
The medicine in tea-making is not just in the plants. It’s in the practice.
This is a mindful and experiential act. You are physically touching the plant. Using your senses. Look at the tea (one reason I prefer loose tea over tea bags). Notice the colors, textures, smells. By the way, if it doesn’t smell like anything, you might be working with some YUCK. Old tea. Ew.
Listen to the water pouring into the vessel, feel the heat and the steam, smell the aromas. And of course, experience the taste of the tea itself.
And, to stick with the woo a bit more, you can prepare them as a sun tea, with the healing and powerful benefit of that yang energy from the sun. You can also infuse it with the moon as a lunar tea, for a more feminine or yin dominant emphasis. In this case you would leave it outside in the moonlight during the phase which resonates with you and your intention for use.
Teas make us more accountable for our health, in that we have to go out of our way in this act of making the tea. It allows us to be more appreciative and respectful of what Mother Earth has provided for us. You don’t get that as much in a tincture, and you definitely don’t get that in a capsule, even if there are herbs in them. Making and consuming tea is an elemental act, one which includes earth, air, and water.
Part of the healing process, which separates herbal medicine from traditional modern day medicine, is it allows us to be part of the healing process. There is a HUGE healing component to making your own medicine. Your intention is infused along with the herbs. You know why you are making a tea as you prepare it, whether it is for physical healing of an ailment, or mental soothing, or just for enjoyment. You reach for that mug, those herbs, and that water with a purpose. This is one of the reasons I love preparing formulations for people, especially when I have grown and harvested it myself. My intention for that person is in my mind and in my heart through every stage of the process. This is part of the medicine. This integral spark of healing has been what we have been doing for as long as there have been healers; sadly, it has been lost along the way for many people.
Clearly, I’m a tea- hearted herbalist. 🙂
If you’re interested in some of the teas I sell online, check out my Etsy shop.
Not to say I don’t also use and recommend tinctures or other preparations- I totally do- a lot! However I will almost always recommend a tea, as well. But some ailments just need tea! Anxiety folks- ya’ll need tea to chill the _____ out. Panic attacks- ya’ll gonna need a tincture, too. Ain’t nobody got time for making some cute tea when you’re hyperventilating. Gut stuff? Probably going to recommend a tea. Reflux? Yep. Tea. Constipation? Diarrhea? Sleep? Headaches? PMS? Yeah, probably going to suggest a tea for those, as well as some other stuff depending on the specifics. If your throat or upper GI is involved, you’re going to want tea to coat things on their way down. Anything where hydration or calming is needed I’m going the tea route.
Maybe at this point some of you are saying, great! I love tea and I drink a lot of tea already. I buy my teabags from _____. Don’t get mad at me- but I need to make something clear.
In general, herbal tea is not medicinal tea. But, medicinal tea can be herbal tea.
You can have a nice little blend of herbal tea. But that doesn’t make it medicinal. I mean, maybe it is? Maybe the way you prepare it is actually medicinal- but most people aren’t doing that.
What do I mean? I mean I buy boxed tea bags from the grocery store. I happen to love a blend of rose and Tulsi. I drink it because I enjoy it. It smells good, it tastes good, it makes me feel good. But I’m not expecting that to be medicinal. It’s just nice, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s probably not very medicinal because I’m using a tea bag, which I can’t see into, so I don’t know how old those herbs are. I don’t know how long they were on the shelf in the ‘healthy’ aisle of my typical grocery store. I don’t know how long they were in a warehouse before that, and I don’t know where the herbs even came from. And I know that little scoop of powdered love isn’t enough herb to do much medicinally in my body. I’m also not steeping it as long as I would with MEDICINE. But it is, truly, an herbal tea.
If I took 2-3 tea bags and steeped them for 20-30 minutes, maybe then I’d get some therapeutic value. Don’t get me wrong, I still get something out of these, but I’m not expecting miracles.
And you shouldn’t, either. Drink them because you like them, but if you want to see more of a change in your health, get the real deal.
Here’s the real deal. On average, for therapeutic benefit, you need to:
Drink the tea 3 times a day - that’s 3 cups a day
Use about 3g of each herb per cup
Let the herbs steep (covered) for at least 20 minutes
Squeeze out the marc (leftover herb) because so much medicine is still in there
Again, this is all a generalization. Different herbs, different preparations, different blends can alter these guidelines.
But when people tell me they ‘tried herbal medicine and it didn’t work’ this is one of the reasons. They usually aren’t doing it therapeutically.
Other times, the herbs used just aren’t the right fit. Yes, that’s a thing. It’s not a one size fits all approach in herbalism. Sometimes the herbs don’t match the person’s constitution, or the symptom, or the underlying root of the problem. Hey- it happens.
That’s why, even though there are a ton of resources out there to guide you on your herbal journey, sometimes it’s good to work with a professional. Like, me 🙂! It’s not always easy to figure out what you actually need when you’re the one living your life. An outside perspective can be very effective. Ha. That rhymed.
If you’re interested in getting a little help with finding the right herbs for your body or health concern, book a time to chat with me! I do free 15 minute Discovery Calls to see if I’m the right person for you.
If you’re not quite ready to book anything, but you’d like to learn more about using teas to help you with anxiety, sleep, or digestive issues, I have a Facebook Group you might be interested called Herbs for Rest and Relief: A Women's Group which might appeal to you. I give some insider tips in there!
Feel free to share some of your tea experiences with me by replying to the email!